Monday, November 27, 2006

SOA in enterprises or Hype 2.0

If dot com in enterprises was hype 1.0 then surely SOA in enterprises is coming very close to becoming hype 2.0 . The way SOA has been touted as next best thing to happen to mankind since sliced bread brings it closer to that dubious distinction. The vendors are promising all kinds of things from flexibility, adaptability, re-use to lower costs if you use their merchandise to do SOA. SOA is good as long as decision makers can seperate hype from reality. I for one will be very saddened if SOA goes the some way as dot com hype. Following discussion is to seperate hype from reality so that decision makers have correct expectation, to enable them to move along the path of sustainable SOA.

1. Myth of reusable services

In my experience as architect I have never seen as-is reuse of a business service implementation. Some amount of refactoring is needed for it to be reused. The refactored business service actually harbours multiple services under a common facade. For a service to be as-is reusable it needs to be so fine grained that it will have problems related to non-functional attributes of services. Just to give an example, if I had a business service providing customer details along with his holding details given a customer identity, then I have couple of options in its implementation.

I) I can build it as a composite service composed of more granualar services for customer detail and holding detail.
II) I can build a monolithic service for providing both customer and holding details

Now remember the lesson we learnt in managing the data. Always do the join at the source of data, because at the source you know more about actual data and can do many more optimisations compared to away from source. (Remember the old adage don't do join in memory let RDBMS handle it?). So from a non-functional perspective (scalability and performance), option II) is very attractive and some times mandatory.

No doubt, option I) gives me more re-usable service. But it still does not give me absolutely reusable service impementation. For example if I need the customer details with holding details for three different kinds of execution scenario, viz.
a) an on-line application for customer service,
b) a batch application to create mass mailer and
c) a business intelligence application to understand customer behaviour (with holding as one of the parameters).

Even though I have more granular services, all of them are not usable in all these different execution context. I cannot simply call the granular services in a loop to get the bulk data needed for scenario b) and c) above. So the re-usability is restricted by execution context.Of-course you can throw hardware at this problem, to solve it. But then your costs escalate and any savings you made by reusing software will be more than offset by hardware costs. So just because you organise your software in terms of services (which essentially specifies the contract between user and supplier and nothing more), you are not going to get re-usability. It will enable re-usability within an execution context but not universal re-use. So if we treat Services as explicit contract specification between users and suppliers then we should attempt to reuse these contracts. This however does not automatically translate to implementation reuse.

2. Myth of composite applications

This myth is related to the myth above. In most other engineering disciplines, the real world components are standardized and higher level solutions are typically component assembly problems. Not so in software. Even if we have services, their assembly does not necssarily behave within accepted parameters, even though a single service might behave OK. So composing implementations, to arrive at a solution is not so straight forward. Many vendors will have you believe that if you use their software, most of your software development will reduce to assembly of services. This is not true for following reasons. What is the correct granularity and definition of services is known to user orgnisation than vendor. These service defintions are dictated by user organisation business practices and policies. Each organisation is different, so a vendor can never supply you those service definitions. If a vendor does not know how the services look like and what their properties should be, how on earth is he going to guarantee that composition of such services will behave in desired manner? And as outlined in point above, the implementation reuse is a big problem. So even on that front vendors can not help you. So the composite application will remain a myth for some time now. The vendor sales and marketing machinery will show you mickey mouse applications built using composite apps scenario. But demand to see atleast two productionized composite apps, where majority of constituent services of apps are shared between those two. My guarantee is, you wont find any.

So is SOA a BIG hype about nothing. Not exactly. It does provide following benefits.

1. Manageability of software with business alignment

The single most important contribution of SOA is that it connects software with business. In an SOA approach, one can make sure that all software is aligned with business needs, because all software is traceable to their business needs. The whole edifice of building, maintaining and measuring utility of software will revolve around business services in an SOA approach. So it becomes easier to maintain focus on business benefits (or lack thereof) of software. With the traceability it provides, software becomes a manageable entity from being an unwieldy and randomly interconnected monolith. And there is some reuse possible in terms of non-functional services (such as security, authentication, personlisation etc.).

2. Ability to seperate concepts from implementation

The next important contribution of SOA approach is the focus it brings on seperating interface from implementation. The logical extension of this approach is to seperate conceptual elements from platform elements. So if you are using SOA approach towards software development, you have necessary inputs to create a large scale conceptul model of your business. You just need to filter out platform specific stuff from the interfaces you defined. You can further distill these interface specifications to seperate data and behaviour aspects. These are really reusable bits within your business. It is very easy to figure out how exactly these reusable bits can be implemented on different implementation platforms. This will give you necessary jump start for your journey towards a conceptual IT world.

So in my opinion SOA is good and it is the way to go. But not for the reasons stated by vendors. It is not going to make software drastically cheaper nor going to make software development drastically faster. Its just a small step in a long journey towards making enterprise software an entity managed by business folks rather than IT folks.

4 comments:

James McGovern said...

It would be intriguing if your next blog entry were on antipatterns of outsourcing...

Vilas said...

James,
Thanks for your comment.
For me outsourcing is a non-issue, an economic reality and a storm in tea-cup at best. Only commoditized production capabilites and service capabilities will ever be outsourced. Innovative capabilities are always insourced.

To give an example:-

There is a famous american beer company which manages to ship most of its beer straight from assembly line to stores without ever warehousing it. Its a lot of software that does it. And they manage this innovation totally in-house and will never outsource it. This capability adds significant amount to their bottom line.

But their payroll, you know who handles it? It is outsourced to ADP, an american company.

So outsourcing does not necessarily mean sub-optimal Indians ;-)

To add further twist though, ADP itself outsources much of its software development to India but keeps all service delivery in the country it operates. And it operates in many countries including, India.

Quite a complex world, won't you say?

markg said...

I posted an entry on Web Services adoption, as it relates to SOA. The question I was asking is how is it really going in the enterprise? One of the things I'm seeing is very little buzz on UDDI based registries (Plenty from Vendors in the form of governance products, not so much from actual users). I think this is part of the reuse equation. If it is hard to achieve reuse with business services (I think utility services have potential) then registries and repositories have a lot less value. Could this be why the buzz on UDDI is so low? Or do you think it's to early to tell?

obackoffice said...

For outsourcing chat, email or back-office support

If you are considering offshoring your processes, or would just like to know more about the various BPO / KPO services that can be outsourced to us in India, kindly contact us and our customer service representatives will get back to you soon.

For outsourcing chat, email or back-office support, visit the website: http://www.outsourcebackoffice.com

Monday, November 27, 2006

SOA in enterprises or Hype 2.0

If dot com in enterprises was hype 1.0 then surely SOA in enterprises is coming very close to becoming hype 2.0 . The way SOA has been touted as next best thing to happen to mankind since sliced bread brings it closer to that dubious distinction. The vendors are promising all kinds of things from flexibility, adaptability, re-use to lower costs if you use their merchandise to do SOA. SOA is good as long as decision makers can seperate hype from reality. I for one will be very saddened if SOA goes the some way as dot com hype. Following discussion is to seperate hype from reality so that decision makers have correct expectation, to enable them to move along the path of sustainable SOA.

1. Myth of reusable services

In my experience as architect I have never seen as-is reuse of a business service implementation. Some amount of refactoring is needed for it to be reused. The refactored business service actually harbours multiple services under a common facade. For a service to be as-is reusable it needs to be so fine grained that it will have problems related to non-functional attributes of services. Just to give an example, if I had a business service providing customer details along with his holding details given a customer identity, then I have couple of options in its implementation.

I) I can build it as a composite service composed of more granualar services for customer detail and holding detail.
II) I can build a monolithic service for providing both customer and holding details

Now remember the lesson we learnt in managing the data. Always do the join at the source of data, because at the source you know more about actual data and can do many more optimisations compared to away from source. (Remember the old adage don't do join in memory let RDBMS handle it?). So from a non-functional perspective (scalability and performance), option II) is very attractive and some times mandatory.

No doubt, option I) gives me more re-usable service. But it still does not give me absolutely reusable service impementation. For example if I need the customer details with holding details for three different kinds of execution scenario, viz.
a) an on-line application for customer service,
b) a batch application to create mass mailer and
c) a business intelligence application to understand customer behaviour (with holding as one of the parameters).

Even though I have more granular services, all of them are not usable in all these different execution context. I cannot simply call the granular services in a loop to get the bulk data needed for scenario b) and c) above. So the re-usability is restricted by execution context.Of-course you can throw hardware at this problem, to solve it. But then your costs escalate and any savings you made by reusing software will be more than offset by hardware costs. So just because you organise your software in terms of services (which essentially specifies the contract between user and supplier and nothing more), you are not going to get re-usability. It will enable re-usability within an execution context but not universal re-use. So if we treat Services as explicit contract specification between users and suppliers then we should attempt to reuse these contracts. This however does not automatically translate to implementation reuse.

2. Myth of composite applications

This myth is related to the myth above. In most other engineering disciplines, the real world components are standardized and higher level solutions are typically component assembly problems. Not so in software. Even if we have services, their assembly does not necssarily behave within accepted parameters, even though a single service might behave OK. So composing implementations, to arrive at a solution is not so straight forward. Many vendors will have you believe that if you use their software, most of your software development will reduce to assembly of services. This is not true for following reasons. What is the correct granularity and definition of services is known to user orgnisation than vendor. These service defintions are dictated by user organisation business practices and policies. Each organisation is different, so a vendor can never supply you those service definitions. If a vendor does not know how the services look like and what their properties should be, how on earth is he going to guarantee that composition of such services will behave in desired manner? And as outlined in point above, the implementation reuse is a big problem. So even on that front vendors can not help you. So the composite application will remain a myth for some time now. The vendor sales and marketing machinery will show you mickey mouse applications built using composite apps scenario. But demand to see atleast two productionized composite apps, where majority of constituent services of apps are shared between those two. My guarantee is, you wont find any.

So is SOA a BIG hype about nothing. Not exactly. It does provide following benefits.

1. Manageability of software with business alignment

The single most important contribution of SOA is that it connects software with business. In an SOA approach, one can make sure that all software is aligned with business needs, because all software is traceable to their business needs. The whole edifice of building, maintaining and measuring utility of software will revolve around business services in an SOA approach. So it becomes easier to maintain focus on business benefits (or lack thereof) of software. With the traceability it provides, software becomes a manageable entity from being an unwieldy and randomly interconnected monolith. And there is some reuse possible in terms of non-functional services (such as security, authentication, personlisation etc.).

2. Ability to seperate concepts from implementation

The next important contribution of SOA approach is the focus it brings on seperating interface from implementation. The logical extension of this approach is to seperate conceptual elements from platform elements. So if you are using SOA approach towards software development, you have necessary inputs to create a large scale conceptul model of your business. You just need to filter out platform specific stuff from the interfaces you defined. You can further distill these interface specifications to seperate data and behaviour aspects. These are really reusable bits within your business. It is very easy to figure out how exactly these reusable bits can be implemented on different implementation platforms. This will give you necessary jump start for your journey towards a conceptual IT world.

So in my opinion SOA is good and it is the way to go. But not for the reasons stated by vendors. It is not going to make software drastically cheaper nor going to make software development drastically faster. Its just a small step in a long journey towards making enterprise software an entity managed by business folks rather than IT folks.

4 comments:

James McGovern said...

It would be intriguing if your next blog entry were on antipatterns of outsourcing...

Vilas said...

James,
Thanks for your comment.
For me outsourcing is a non-issue, an economic reality and a storm in tea-cup at best. Only commoditized production capabilites and service capabilities will ever be outsourced. Innovative capabilities are always insourced.

To give an example:-

There is a famous american beer company which manages to ship most of its beer straight from assembly line to stores without ever warehousing it. Its a lot of software that does it. And they manage this innovation totally in-house and will never outsource it. This capability adds significant amount to their bottom line.

But their payroll, you know who handles it? It is outsourced to ADP, an american company.

So outsourcing does not necessarily mean sub-optimal Indians ;-)

To add further twist though, ADP itself outsources much of its software development to India but keeps all service delivery in the country it operates. And it operates in many countries including, India.

Quite a complex world, won't you say?

markg said...

I posted an entry on Web Services adoption, as it relates to SOA. The question I was asking is how is it really going in the enterprise? One of the things I'm seeing is very little buzz on UDDI based registries (Plenty from Vendors in the form of governance products, not so much from actual users). I think this is part of the reuse equation. If it is hard to achieve reuse with business services (I think utility services have potential) then registries and repositories have a lot less value. Could this be why the buzz on UDDI is so low? Or do you think it's to early to tell?

obackoffice said...

For outsourcing chat, email or back-office support

If you are considering offshoring your processes, or would just like to know more about the various BPO / KPO services that can be outsourced to us in India, kindly contact us and our customer service representatives will get back to you soon.

For outsourcing chat, email or back-office support, visit the website: http://www.outsourcebackoffice.com